with Robert Haaland
Holding a law degree while asking for spare change
July 19, 2006
Twelve years ago, while I was in law school, I came
out as transgender. But I was terrified, even after living life
as an open lesbian for twelve years. I was terrified because I
knew it would be impossible for me to get a job. I was in law
school and I didn't know any transgender attorneys, except Shannon
Minter who transitioned on the job at the National Center for
Lesbian Rights, not exactly a place that would kick him to the
curb for being trans.
Because I was apprehensive about coming out, I mentioned
it to my boss, a lesbian attorney I had worked for during undergraduate
and law school. She was not pleased and I got really nervous when
I realized that the gay and lesbian community wasn't necessarily
going to understand or have my back. Regardless, I came out anyway
the summer after I graduated from law school and my fears were
immediately realized. I remember sitting in an interview with
a local prominent progressive activist and explaining that I was
trans. She didn't look completely horrified, just confused and
uncomfortable. I didn't get the job.
I didn't get a lot of jobs I applied for.
I struggled for many years after law school. Being
trans wasn't cool yet in progressive circles (not that it is peaches
and cream all the time now). I was really fortunate. I was paying
extremely low rent and had a roommate who was incredibly empathetic.
In retrospect, I'm pretty sure that had I not been living with
him, I would have ended up in a SRO.
My story is not uncommon though.
Folks in the trans community are more likely to
be unemployed or underemployed. What is underemployed? Well, when
a transgender woman who used to be CEO of a major corporation
ends up driving a cab, she is underemployed.
I was lucky. I could have ended up unemployed, homeless
and who knows? I was scared, confused, had no family to back me
up, but was lucky enough to have a roommate who took care of me
while I was on the edge of/living in poverty. My story is probably
one of thousands: Try sitting in an interview and deciding whether
to come out or not. If what is happening at the Board of Supervisors
had happened 12 years ago, it would have made a difference in
my life, could have helped me navigate getting a job and kept
me from ending up on the streets with a law degree while asking
for spare change ( I felt like I was that close).
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget Committee
proposed and passed an historic $300,000 commitment to turning
around the high rates of poverty in San Francisco's transgender
communities. Thirteen years after San Francisco outlawed discrimination
against transgender employees, the Committee earmarked funds to
improve employment opportunities to overcome high rates of unemployment
and underemployment among well qualified transgender people in
the city who would otherwise be frozen out of the job market.
Receiving unanimous support from the Budget Committee,
the initiative is an important first step and timely. Joining
Supervisor Dufty in voting for funding the Initiative was Committee
Chair Chris Daly, Board President Aaron Peskin, and Supervisors
Ross Mirkarimi and Sean Elsbernd.
Community members are thrilled about the vote and
the support of elected officials. This historic vote reinforces
the city's role as a national leader in the transgender equality
movement. Just five years after the city began offering health
insurance equality for city employees, this initiative will set
another milestone in transgender history by creating full and
fair employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for our community.
Funding for the Initiative will be managed by the
City's Human Services Agency (HSA) which oversees workforce development.
San Francisco's Airport and the Public Utilities Commission collaboratively
contributed $100,000 to the Initiative so that some of the employment
training programs will be specifically geared to meet their employment
and hiring needs. The remaining commitment comes from the city's
Robert Haaland is a member of the San Francisco Board of
Appeals and publishes leftinsf.com.
Haaland at firstname.lastname@example.org.